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From Students to Scientists: The never-ending journey of stem cell research begins at UniStem Day 2024

Photo of students in one of the UniStem Day 2024 workshops.
High school students from Skåne, Sweden, learn how to use chicken embryos to study childhood cancer with researchers in the Mohlin lab during UniStem Day 2024.

In the heart of Lund, anticipation filled the air as over 230 high school students from across Skåne, Sweden, gathered in a bustling auditorium at Lund University on Friday, March 22nd.

UniStem Day 2024, an annual event hosted by the Lund Stem Cell Center, was underway, designed to kindle the flames of curiosity and passion for science among the region’s youth. From Söderportgymnasiet to Sjölins Gymnasium, students arrived at the Faculty of Medicine, eager to learn more about stem cell research and regenerative medicine. 

The day commenced with a warm welcome from Daniella Ottosson, Associate Professor at Lund University, and the Coordinator of UniStem Day 2024, followed by inspiring words from Johan Jakobsson, Professor at Lund University, and Director of Lund Stem Cell Center. Their messages set the tone for a day filled with learning and exploration, beginning with a series of lectures.

Engaging Lectures Spark Curiosity

Emma Hammarlund giving a talk during UniStem Day 2024. Photo.
Dr. Emma Hammarlund gives a talk to an auditorium of high school students during UniStem Day 2024.

Dr. Mattias Magnusson introduced the crowd to the fundamentals of stem cells, while PhD student Alice Hägg highlighted the potential of advanced therapeutic medical products. Dr. Sofie Mohlin captivated the audience with insights into the use of chicken embryos as stem cell models, and Dr. Emma Hammarlund explored the role of stem cells in cancer, leaving students with a newfound appreciation for the complexities of cellular biology.

Reflecting on the lectures, one participant remarked, “I was already thinking about working in a profession related to genetics, so I was already interested in stem cells. Still, it was very fun when the professors did their lectures; I learned a lot.”

Hands-On Workshops: A Tangible Connection to Science

After a fact-filled morning, hands-on workshops helped capture the essence of discovery. From manipulating brain organoids to exploring the secrets of DNA, these workshops offered students a tangible connection to the science they’d only read about in textbooks. 

Students in lab coats during.a workshop at UniStem Day 2024. Photo.
Students take part in the workshop "Transplant cells into the brain and find them!" with researchers from the Kokaia and Ahlenius labs.

Srisaiyini Kidnapillai, a postdoctoral researcher at Lund Stem Cell Center, and the event administrator expressed, “Seeing those curious students on UniStem Day gives us a real buzz and fulfilment! It was rewarding to see them actively participate in our workshops and engage with hands-on activities. We're all about sparking interest and showing the students the cool side of science.”

Teacher feedback echoed the sentiment of engagement, with one remarking, “The workshops were absolutely fantastic, and our students appreciated them very much,” while another highlighted the popularity of sessions involving practical elements. “Actually, trying to feed cell cultures at one of the stations gave a very good insight into how stem cell researchers work,” shared one of the students.

Charting Career Paths in Stem Cell Science

Students speaking with student ambassador's from LU's STEM faculties during UniStem Day 2024 mini-fair. Photo.
Lund University student ambassadors chat with students during the mini-fair.

The journey continued with an interactive career session which provided a roadmap for students contemplating a future in stem cell science. Henrik Ahlenius, Associate Professor at Lund University and research group leader at Lund Stem Cell Center, along with student ambassadors from Lund University’s STEM faculties, painted a picture of the possibilities that lie ahead for aspiring scientists.

Reflecting on the career session, one student shared, “The conversations with the students who studied the bachelor program in molecular biology gave me clarity about what I actually want to study after high school.”

Reflecting on the Day

As the day drew to a close, participants gathered for a final session filled with questions, discussions, reflections, and an exciting pop quiz, won proudly by Malmö Latinskola. 

Malmö Latinskola being awarded the UniStem Day 2024 quiz prize. Photo.
PhD student Raquel Martinez Curiel hands the UniStem Day quiz prize to a representative from Malmö Latinskola.

The collaborative efforts of the day not only showcased the wonders of stem cell research but also underscored the vital role of STEM education in shaping future scientists.

“Above all, UniStem Day remains a source of inspiration, providing a unique opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the exciting world of stem cell research. We take great pride in hosting this event annually to inspire the next generation of scientists and were thrilled to see such enthusiastic participation from both students and educators this year in particular," said Daniella Ottosson.

And the impact of the day was evident in the students' responses to the event's evaluation. “Now I want to become a stem cell researcher myself!” exclaimed one, while another expressed plans to explore chemistry in stem cell medicine. Others felt reaffirmed in their career aspirations, echoing, “I was already considering this path, and the additional information I received made me more confident in my decision.”

With its engaging lectures, interactive workshops, and insightful career sessions, UniStem Day 2024 seems to have truly ignited a passion for stem cell science in the hearts of these young minds, illuminating the journey for the scientists of tomorrow.

Daniella Ottosson. Image credit: Johan Persson

Daniella Ottosson, Coordinator of UniStem Day 2024, is an associate Professor at the Lund University Faculty of Medicine and Wallenberg Academy Fellow, and leads the research group on Regenerative Neurophysiology at Lund Stem Cell Center.

Photo of Srisaiyini Kidnapillai

Srisaiyini Kidnapillai, administrator of UniStem Day 2024, is a postdoctoral researcher within the Restorative Neurophysiology research group, at the Lund University Faculty of Medicine.

About UniStem Day:

The idea for UniStem Day was born in 2009 in Milan, Italy by Elena Cattaneo, Professor at Milan University. The event returns each year on an international level with the involvement of universities and research centers in Europe and Australia. This year the event took place at 97 universities and research centers in Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, and for the first time Norway. 

In 2015, Malin Parmar, Professor of Cellular Neurobiology at Lund University, brought UniStem Day to Lund. Since then, Lund Stem Cell Center has been proud to host high school students from across Skåne, Sweden at our facilities each year for a full day of interactive talks, lab visits and workshops focused on stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

More about UniStem Day in Lund

More about UniStem Day in Europe